In the mid-13th century, on the Temple's site there used to stand a private residence for Mitsunori Yadoya, the founder of the Temple and one of the seven immediate retainers for Fifth Hojo Regent Tokiyori Hojo (1227-1263). Priest Nichiren (1222-1282), the founder of Nichiren Sect Buddhism and the writer of the famous treatise entitled Pacifying the State by Establishing Orthodoxy, looked for someone who would deliver the treatise to the Regent. He thought Mitsunori Yadoya would be most suitable and asked him for help. Mitsunori accepted the request and forwarded the treatise to the Regent for his review. It was back in 1260. In the treatise, Priest Nichiren asserted that the right and authentic Buddhism doctrine is in Hokkekyo, or the Lotus Sutra, none others, and criticized fiercely all other sects' tenets including Zen, in which Tokiyori himself had faith. In fact, Tokiyori had erected the
first Zen temple Kenchoji seven years earlier.
As had been expected, Tokiyori rejected his treatise, and he felt he was offended real bad. Undaunted, Priest Nichiren continued his campaigns undergoing a series of persecutions. In 1271, he was put on trial and was finally sentenced to death. At Tatsunokuchi near Ryukoji, he was nearly executed. At the last moment, however, he was saved by a miracle, and was exiled to an island called Sado off the coast of Niigata Prefecture.
At the same time, Priest Nichiren's five disciples were collectively arrested on charge of aid and abet, and detained in a cavern at Mitsunori's residence. Included among them was Priest Nichiro, one of the Six Great Disciples of Priest Nichiren and the founding priest of Myohonji. He joined the Nichiren sect at age 10, and so attentive to Priest Nichiren that it was said, "Wherever the Priest may go, there is always Nichiro with him."
Though Mitsunori was supposed to keep watch, like a jailer, on the five disciples in confinement, he cordially treated them as if they had been his quests. Priest Nichiro reciprocated his cordiality. Mitsunori was deeply moved by Priest Nichiro's manner and his loyalty toward Priest Nichiren. At the end of the one-month confinement, Mitsunori who had naturally been a Zen Buddhist as a retainer of Tokiyori, began to embrace Priest Nichiro's teachings. As Tokiyori had already been dead for several years, Mitsunori converted to the Nichiren sect, and successfully lobbied for an earlier release of Priest Nichiren in exile. He even remodeled his residence to a temple and presented it to the Nichiren sect Buddhists, requesting Priest Nichiro to be the first chief priest. Thus, the present-day Temple was erected.
Mitsunori can be pronounced "Kosoku" in Chinese ideographs, hence the name of Kosokuji. The first part of the official name "Gyoji" came from his father's name "Yukitoki", which also can read Gyoji in Chinese characters.
The cavern Priest Nichiro and others were detained back in 1271 exists today at the north corner behind the graveyard. The Temple is rather small and structures consist of Sanmon gate, the main hall and priest's living quarter only. In contrast to Kotoku-in (the Great Buddha) and Hasedera in the vicinity, visitors are usually scarce here except for the flower seasons.
An offertory box is placed in the center. Visitors are requested to toss in 100 yen.
Main Hall (Picture, top)
Rebuilt in 1650, the main hall houses nearly 10 statues: Those of Priest Nichiren fashioned in 1661, Priest Nichiro and his four colleagues' made in 1673, who were confined in the cavern, and a nun named Ohbai-in of 1844 make. The main objects of worship are the statue of Priest Nichiren and the Odaimoku tablet, on which the formulary words Nam-myo-ho-ren-gek'kyo are inscribed by Priest Nichiren himself while he was in exile. The door is usually closed, but sometimes slightly ajar. Visitors may be allowed to peer in after worshipping in proper manner. On the dimly lit altar are statues mentioned above with that of Priest Nichiren in the center.
Immediately after passing the sanmon Gate, you will find a tall stone-tablet, on which calligraphically beautiful letters are engraved. Lay people including myself will not be able to decipher what letters are written, let alone what they mean. According to a guidebook, it is Nichiren's holograph and part of the letter addressed to Mitsunori asking him to deliver his treatise to Tokiyori Hojo, the Fifth Hojo Regent.
Cavern (Picture; right)
A small path leading north with roughly 90 steps will bring visitors to the cavern. It has a heavy wood grill, and a nearby signboard warns not to get near it as the land could slide anytime. Halfway through the path to the cavern are a pair of Gorinto tombs for Mr. and Mrs. Mitsunori Yadoya.
The garden has a pond and abounds with a number of seasonal flowers such as:
Most notable is the 150-year-old Japanese aronia, which is 7 meters in height with 40-centimeter diameter at its root. Kamakura City designated this tree as a Precious Natural Product. At the time of its bloom, the Temple ground is crowded with amateur photographers with tripods. Japanese apricots, one of them is believed to be 300 years old, also draw visitors in February. Otherwise, the Temple is not crowded. When I visited one morning in early August, there were no other visitors during my 15-minute stay.
Kenji Miyazawa and his poem monument
An oblong stone monument engraved with the lyrics written by popular poet and philosopher Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) appears on left-hand side of the courtyard. He was a pious devotee of Nichiren sect Buddhism. One of his popular poem Amenimo Makezu (We can beat even rain), which often appears in school textbooks, are engraved on the stone slab. The poem written in easy language, teaches us to live frugally and humbly, but physically tough, and yet kind enough to the neighbors. He was a school-teacher at Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, witnessing rough lives of farmers. He also wrote Night on the Milky Way Train, a fantasy story. With these writings, he was reputed as a writer of Children's story. In reality, however, he was not a simple writer, but a philosopher and a devout Nichiren Buddhist. Included among his works is a three-volume poem entitled Spring and Asura, which are too difficult to understand for the laity. Not only was he a strict vegetarian, but also remained unmarried for life. A role model of Buddhist, he was.
On March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake ever in Japan struck Iwate and its neighboring prefectures followed by a massive tsunami. More than 22,000 people were killed or missing. But survived victims behaved themselves without panicking. A writer for the New York Times wrote "I am deeply impressed by the humility, patience, calm and discipline that the Japanese have shown. If this disaster had happened in Europe or the U.S., there would have been looting, riots and mass panic. Here there is nothing of the sort. No signs like "Looters will be shot" are to be found. People don't even take food items from half-destroyed supermarkets. And they really need them."
Kenji Miyazawa was born and grew up at Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture. When the devastating earthquake hit the area and victims' calm behavior was reported, his poem reminded Japanese anew of humanity of those people. English translation of this poem is available at Wikipedia
The mega quake and tsunami disasters were reported worldwide, and almost all countries around the world gave their profound sympathy to Japan. In London, the Westminster Abbey hosted The Great East Japan Earthquake Memorial Service on June 5 (Sunday), 2011, conducted by the Very Reverend Dr. John Hall, Dean of Westminster, during which the Miyazawa's poem was read by an Japanese actor as part of the service.
The Japanese language has two main dialects; Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe areas) and Tokyo. They are quite different in intonation, and the Tokyo dialect is now the standard Japanese talked on TV and radio. Another dialect, though minor, is the Tohoku (northeast) spoken in the Tohoku region or, Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata and Fukushima prefectures to be specific. Wikipedia explains the Tohoku dialect like this: Quote. A notable linguistic feature of the Tohoku dialect is its neutralization of the high vowels "e" and "woo", so that the words sushi, susu (soot), and shishi (lion) are rendered homophonous, where they would have been distinct in other dialects. So Tohoku dialect is sometimes referred to as "Zoo-zoo ben". In addition, all unvoiced stops become voiced intervocalically, rendering the pronunciation of the word "kato" (trained rabbit) as "kado". However, unlike the high vowel neutralization, this does not result in new homophones, as all voiced stops are pre-nasalized, meaning that the word "kado" (corner) is roughly pronounced "kando". This is particularly noticeable with the "g" sound, which is nasalized sufficiently that it sounds very much like the English "ng" as in "thing", with the stop of the hard "g" almost entirely lost, so that ichigo (strawberry) is pronounced "ijingo." Unquote. Talking Zoo-zoo ben implies him or her coming up from the country. As a result, today's young people from Tohoku usually speak the Tokyo dialect and rarely can we hear the real Tohoku dialect.
Kenji Miyazawa lived right in the center of the Tohoku region and this poem sounds much better when spoken with the Tohoku dialect. I have once heard Teruko Nagaoka (1908-2010), a famous actress winning a number of awards, who was from Morioka, Iwate, read the poem using the genuine Tohoku dialect. When young, she studied drama for two yeas in France and formed a drama group in Japan. Her reading of the Kenji's poem may have moved people's hearts.
Daniel Kahl (1960-), a Californian and a popular TV personality in Japan, learned the Japanese language visiting Japan often when he was young. He mastered both Kansai and Tokyo dialects. After graduating from Pacific University in California, he revisited Japan as an English teacher. He was assigned to a local junior-high school in Yamagata, where he was shocked, however, to know he didn't understand at all the conversations made among the local, elderly people. It sounded like a different language to him. This made him to challenge the Tohoku dialect, trying to communicate with local people, the elderly in particular. A few years later, he mastered it and often appeared on TV as a perfect Tohoku dialect speaker, which made many Japanese astonished. After the mega quake and tsunami this time, tens of thousands of volunteers rushed to Tohoku to do something for the people in distress. Among them was Dan. What he chose to bring with him were hundreds of reading glasses for the elderly.
(1) Lucy Birmingham, a Tokyo-based American journalist, published in October 2012 a book Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan's Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, which covers aftermath of the mega-quake.
(2) There is the other Kosokuji at Juniso, the same name in alphabet, located in eastern part of Kamakura belonging toJi sect. Japanese visitors will never fail to tell the difference since the two have different kanji characters.
(Updated April 2013)